An adult walks into a corner shop and asks for a packet of cigarettes. They name the brand they want and then pay for them. They walk out and light up. Does this sound like a perfectly legal activity to you? But what if the person who bought the cigarettes had never smoked before? Do you think the shopkeeper should have asked beforehand and refused to sell them cigarettes if they were going to smoke them for the first time?
Before I go on, I am not suggesting that there should be a vetting procedure before someone buys a packet of cigarettes. So why does the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) think the same should apply if someone wants to buy an e-cigarette or some e-juice? Here is a quote from Richard Hyslop, Chief Executive of IBVTA, published in today's Sun:
“Vape products should not be marketed to non-smokers or those under the age of 18.
“However, figures produced by organisations such as the Office for National Statistics and Ash (Action on Smoking and Health) demonstrate that over 90% of vapers in the UK are adult current or former smokers, therefore we do not believe this to be a significant problem.”
I agree that almost everyone who buys vape products are current or former smokers; no-one is doubting that. I agree that there isn't a significant problem, but why does IBVTA want people who are considering smoking to go ahead because it's their choice (which it is), but doesn't want any of its members to sell to someone who has never smoked, but is considering vaping, any vape products?
No doubt this policy was included in IBVTA's code of conduct with the best of intentions, however, it is fundamentally flawed. In recent years there has been a sharp decline in the number of people who say they smoke. There are many in the public health industry who refuse to see the link between vaping and those stopping smoking, but it is in their interests to say that. They have their incomes and funding to think about. Woe betide anyone who tries to stop them nursing on the taxpayers's teat.
For the rest of us who inhabit the real world, and who have given up smoking thanks to vaping, we know that it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to quit smoking without getting our daily nicotine fix through an e-cigarette. I loved smoking cigarettes. I knew that they were likely to kill me, but they gave me such pleasure that I didn't want to stop. I now love vaping. I enjoy the pleasure derived from it, and I have no intention of giving up vaping even if I go down to zero nicotine e-juice.
The question in the title on this post, though, asks a question that many are asking after this report was published at the end of last week. My answer is yes. This is not to say that if a friend or family member who had never smoked or vaped came up to me and asked me what should they try, that I would encourage either. I wouldn't. I would tell them to neither smoke nor vape. But, according to the Office for National Statistics, 20.7 per cent of those aged 18-24 currently smoke.
Despite all the warnings, nannying, and bullying, just over 1 in 5 younger people still start smoking. So what would you rather they do? Experiment with combustible tobacco, or experiment with vaping? If they develop a vaping habit, isn't that better than developing a smoking habit?
The answer to me is obvious.